excerpt > Rob Reynolds > Wire Mother Monkey Baby
and in particular to move into The Complex, one of those new, all-inclusive apartments subsidized by various corporations, in this case by Kool Kola. The Complex is not just a series of apartments, it’s a kind of village that Hillary Clinton might say “it takes.” Perhaps I see myself as a child needing growth, if not a grown man needing to be born again. The Complex includes pools and athletic facilities, a chip walking trail, restaurants and cafes, a three-plex of intimate cinemas, and a bar slash club that plays live music every night. It’s a microcosm of the outside world, only more micro, less cosmic.Weeks ago I’d toured the grounds in a golf cart with Jill, a Complex employee who kept sweeping back her dyed blonde hair as if excessively proud of it, or wanting to call my attention to it, or consciously trying to convey that subconsciously she was attracted to me even though she wasn’t in an effort to elicit a sale. Savvy. The cart bounced over speed bumps, and the squeaking shocks registered as bed springs before I could block the image. Jill tapped her fingers on the steering wheel. Her nails were not only excessively long, they were French-manicured, which drew even more attention to them. A sentence formed in my mind, run-on though it be: We don’t want our eccentricities merely accepted, we want to be loved for them. One for the commonplace book.1 Still, I’d be damned if I were going to compliment Jill. “Nice nails” is not in my repertoire.
I swayed toward her on right turns, away on left. The rubber tires made a wet, sticky sound on the macadam—is that a funny word or what? Kindly keep to the macadam, ma’am. Or tarmac. Stay on the tar, Mac. The blacktop was as dry as . . . well, as dry as the brown, sun-scorched grass everywhere in Central Texas, with the possible exception of The Complex. We were miles from water, but the grass was lush and green. Non-native, obviously. The entrance to every set of buildings sported a cluster of three palm trees rising from an island of sweet-smelling cedar chips. The clusters looked so similar, center tree rigidly straight, outer two leaning toward it like conspirators, that I wondered whether Jill were driving us in a circle.
Everything looked so good, so clean. Would The Complex welcome such a flawed specimen as I? Because even though I was put off by Jill’s nails and hair, or more precisely by the efforts most people make to appear quote unquote better, or what I take to be the vanity nay insecurity inherent in such efforts, denying our authentic selves—whatever that is—this nagging inner voice reminds me that Yours Truly would have a white patch of hair above his forehead if he didn’t use a store-bought dye every month. And I recall an ex-girlfriend’s claim that my lifting weights was of the same cloth for men as makeup for women: an attempt to enhance an existing quality that alerts the opposite sex to our mating potential.
It’s not that I’m a misogynist, I’m that other word. Misanthrope. Why hate only half the race when I can hate it all? I have no patience with people, but I also have no patience with people who have no patience with people.
In short, I hate myself. Or loathe. Loathe sounds more lyrical. But I know that I loathe, and I know that the way out of loathing—the speck you see in your neighbor’s eye, so to speak—is to go easy on others, easy on yourself.
Not so easy after one has lost the glow of youth, not to mention its ideals. And I tell myself that in the ideal world in my mind, there is no need to improve whatever it is that we are. I judge the real based on the ideal. And of course the real falls short.
Jill gestured with her nails and explained, “Each unit in the eight-hundred-and sixty-unit Complex is really unique, just as each tenant and each human being is really unique.”
I winced at Jill’s modification (sigh, twice!) of an absolute grammatical expression. Despite her display of enthusiasm, I heard a memorized script and the dullness that repetition brings. Frederick Taylor’s2 legacy to the modern world. In front of building after building, Jill steered the tires between white lines and bumped against the concrete wheel stops. The whirring engine seemed to stop breathing. As she unlocked unit after unit, I came to appreciate the differing ceiling heights, and how the placements of the kitchenette, bathroom, and bedroom also varied. One unit had a chandelier whereas another had track lighting. Some had dark wood moldings and cornices, others lighter, paler wood; carpets of varying styles, color, texture; granite counters v. faux marble, faux because these apartments were not overly expensive, though I would be spending a good two hundred dollars more a month. Admittedly the emphasis on uniqueness sounded like a gimmick, and admittedly I took it as such from my driver, the nascent philosopher with the perfect nails. Yet as Jill led me through each door, I confess I could feel my hopes rising. Even the presence in each unit of a squat, mini-Kool Kola vending machine couldn’t dampen my enthusiasm.
The apartments were created by someone who cared about aesthetics, something I find less and less in my surroundings.
At the fifth apartment, with nary an inkling of impatience by Jill, I recognized almost against my will what seemed my dream apartment: exposed red brick walls, brown hardwood floors, cathedral ceiling, track lighting, and a spiral staircase leading to a loft. A Hunter fan above spun lazily. Wooing me. Hypnotizing me. With my neon Lone Star sign in place, I would achieve a near-match of that nebulous image of my fantasy apartment – though not lost on me was that I was recreating the look of an urban bar. Jill must have noticed a change in my expression or demeanor. Something. Women, so intuitive. She placed a manicured hand on the banister, spun gracefully, and sat herself down on the stairs that would lead to my sleeping area. She crossed her legs at the knee, and her shorts rose to show off a toned, tanning-bed brown thigh. I could be wrong, but I felt she was orchestrating a subliminal suggestion that somehow she, Jill, came with the apartment.
Jill leaned back on her elbows, and I noticed for the first time the slight crow’s feet around her eyes, and the slightest wrinkle in her cheek created by her constant smile—a wrinkle that only a “glass half full” person would perceive as a dimple. I’d assumed Jill was in her mid-twenties, no doubt an age she wanted to project. My shoulders relaxed somewhat as she became more real. Obviously neither was interested in the other. Just two aging humans caught up in the age-old tango of sellers and buyers.
Jill bounced her foot playfully. “So . . . what line of work are you in?” She spoke in the cheery, flirty manner of good Texas or Southern girls, with an accent that manages to get two syllables out of “in,” reminding me of those TV preachers from my youth who preached about see in, or spewed three syllables in the name of Jee-ee-zus before smiting the foreheads of the afflicted. I knew her question was all business, designed to make sure I could cover the rent. Another example of someone’s most basic inclinations directed back into serving the system. Whatever that is.
I had a glimmer of a thought, one to come back to later, though I suspected I never would: Once we’re past a certain age—childhood?—do we ever live authentically? Followed by a second thought: What, pray tell, does authentic living look like?
This was my dilemma, late in the early stages of mid-life, of which Jill was just a visible reminder. Call it a projection of my own soul’s issues: Wherever you go, you take yourself. Is it possible for an individual like me – loner, misanthrope, self-proclaimed intellectual, other-proclaimed neurotic – to be happy? Or is the American emphasis on individuality, as I understand it, at odds with larger concepts of happiness, ones that consider the deep collective nature of our species? And if one is unwilling to conform, and suffers enough mental, social, sexual, not to mention physical pain, is suicide the only other option?
God that’s depressing. I’ll get back to you on that.
I told Jill the name of the company I worked for, Long, Glissening & Brown.
This was met with a smile, a slight rise of the eyebrows. “Is that a law firm?”
“No, it’s an educational publishing company.”
Freezing of same smile.
I wasn’t worried. Through longevity—six years, a lifetime in this town—and annual raises, I’d managed to secure a decent income, and my credit rating likewise was decent. Am I decent? All this would come out in the paper work later.
What I didn’t tell Jill was that in going about the motions of my life—the routines of work, exercise, eating, reading, medicating, meditating, and masturbating, and keeping myself entertained through music, film, and occasionally TV—I felt I’d lost my soul, spirit. Something. Could a place like The Complex help me retrieve it? Or was my choice to move into The Complex some unconscious acting out of tendencies that further rob one of . . . that thing? If nothing else, the shock of the new might help stem the bleeding. I’m banking on the change in and influence of environment, of which we are products, or at least by which we, meaning I, are greatly influenced. To encase myself in a beautiful womb in an aesthetically pleasing Complex designed to meet my social, music, entertainment, and other needs. To get into a group thing, rub shoulders with the hoi polloi. Or polloi. No need to repeat the “the.” And I may need to be sold on the shoulder-rubbing thing.
Of course there is no need to separate “memoir” from “diary” or “philosophical journal.” I can tell you, reader, about my past life and about my “world-view” also, as I ramble along. . . . Later, if I please, I can regard these ramblings as rough notes for a more coherent account. — Iris Murdoch, The Sea, The Sea
But alas, innocent J, there will be no telling of a past life, for I am leaving that in my wake. And you, meaning me, know of my past anyway. So no to memoir, yes to diary, yes to journal, philosophical or otherwise. Stray quotations? Footnotes? Yes squared. And for this new life, a new document on my old laptop.
Rob Reynolds has published short fiction widely, including in the anthology You Have Time for This: Contemporary American Short-Short Stories. He’s a former contributing associate and contributing editor of the Harvard Review and Boston Book Review. He lives in Austin, TX. Read more here.
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